Netanyahu said to invite Gantz for talks on emergency government to combat virus
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Netanyahu said to invite Gantz for talks on emergency government to combat virus

PM says coalition would ‘fight together to save the lives of tens of thousands’; due to ban on gatherings of over 100 people, Knesset members to be sworn-in in 3 separate groups

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz at a memorial ceremony marking 24 years since the assassination of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, in the Knesset on November 10, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz at a memorial ceremony marking 24 years since the assassination of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, in the Knesset on November 10, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s events as they happened.

Doctor at Sheba Medical Center diagnosed with coronavirus

Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer says one of its doctors has been diagnosed with the coronavirus.

The doctor, a member of the hospital’s emergency medicine unit, returned from a trip to France on March 2, before Israel ordered all travelers coming from there to self-quarantine.

He worked a shift that day in the emergency room before going into quarantine.

“He is in good condition and transferred to the quarantined and isolated area at Sheba,” the hospital says in a statement.

Anyone who was in close contact with him will be sent immediately to quarantine, the hospital adds. It says any patient treated by the doctor will be updated.

German intel chief says far-right terrorism the ‘biggest danger’ to democracy in Germany

BERLIN — Far-right terrorism and extremism are the biggest danger facing democracy in Germany today, the domestic intelligence agency chief says, after the country was hit by several extremist attacks in recent months.

The most radical right-wingers number 32,000 in the country, says BfV chief Thomas Haldenwang, adding that 13,000 are considered potentially violent.

“Right-wing extremism and right-wing terrorism are currently the biggest danger for democracy in Germany,” he says at a press conference.

His agency also placed under formal surveillance the far-right AfD party’s most radical faction Fluegel (The Wing), which now has about 7,000 members.

Haldenwang says security officials believe the Fluegel violates “characteristic features of the free democratic basic order, human dignity, democracy and the rule of law.”

— AP

Iraq will investigate attack on base that killed US troops

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s military says it opened an investigation into a rocket attack hours earlier that killed three servicemen, including two Americans, at an Iraqi base housing coalition forces.

At least 12 coalition personnel were also injured yesterday by a barrage of rockets targeting Camp Taji base, located 27 kilometers (17 miles) north of Baghdad, according to a US-led coalition statement. A truck rigged with 107 mm Katyusha rocket launchers was discovered by Iraqi security forces a few kilometers (miles) from the base following the attack.

A military statement from Iraq’s joint operations command says caretaker Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi ordered the investigation into what he called “a very serious security challenge and hostile act.”

The United Nations condemns the attack, saying it took “critical political attention away” from Iraq’s ongoing domestic challenges, which threaten to create power vacuum at the seat of Iraq’s government.

“The last thing Iraq needs is to serve as an arena for vendettas and external battles,” the statement says.

— AP

Levy-Abekasis reportedly may not recommend that Gantz form next government

Labor-Gesher-Meretz MK Orly Levy-Abekasis is not expected to recommend Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz be tasked with forming the next government, Channel 12 news reports.

Levy-Abekasis earlier this week said she would refuse to back a Gantz-led government supported by the Joint List of four predominantly Arab parties, dealing a potentially fatal blow to the Blue and White chief’s changes of assembling a coalition to replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyanu.

She is not present at a Labor-Gesher-Meretz press conference today, during which the left-wing alliance’s leader Amir Peretz says he still supports forming a “narrow government” led by Blue and White that is backed by the Joint List.

“The move encountered difficulties in the parties. Orly Levy-Abekasis’s announcement increases the difficulties of executing this important move. Despite the hard feelings,” Peretz is quoted saying by Channel 12 news.

He adds that he is still in touch with Levy-Abekasis and hopes there will be “coordination on future actions with her.”

Labor-Gesher-Meretz MK Amir Peretz (C) and members of the left-wing political alliance at a press conference in Tel Aviv on March 12, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Coronavirus death toll in Spain nearly doubles over past day

MADRID — Coronavirus infections in Spain soar to nearly 3,000 today as the number of deaths almost doubles, rising to 84, the health ministry says.

There are now 2,968 cases in Spain, up from 2,140 yesterday evening, a ministry statement says, with deaths leaping to 84 from 48 within the same time frame.

— AFP

National Security Council said discussing closure of schools over coronavirus

The National Security Council is holding deliberations on whether to order the closing of schools due to the coronavirus, Hebrew media reports say.

Teachers union chief calls for schools to be closed to halt spread of virus

Secretary-general of the Israel Teachers’ Union Yaffa Ben-David demands that all schools be closed, the Ynet website reports.

“I call on the prime minister to show national responsibility to public health, including the country’s students, the educators and their families in order to stop the spread of the virus and the next victims,” she writes in a message sent to education workers.

Directing her remarks at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, she appeals for him to close all education institutes, kindergartens and schools.

Teachers have raised concerns over their exposure to hundreds of students every day, the report says.

Also today, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem says that it will start the second semester of the year a week late and that all studies for its over 20,000 students would be done remotely through video streaming, starting March 22.

In a statement the university says the postponement in opening the semester, which had been scheduled to start next week, was in order to implement the distance learning system at its two campuses in Givat Ram and Mount Scopus.

— Stuart Winer

Rivlin urges Israelis to follow official instructions on virus, not be dismissive

President Reuven Rivlin attends the opening of an emergency call center set up by the Magen David Adom ambulance service and the IDF’s Home Front Command for dealing with the new corononavirus.

“Israelis, like people around the world, are battling a plague that is hitting all humanity. Of course, in Israel we are protected by Magen David Adom and the IDF, the people’s shield and the people’s army… Everyone has faith in you and knows that they can do so,” Rivlin says at the facility in Ramle, according to statement from his office.

The president urges Israelis to follow Health Ministry instructions, noting Israelis can be a “little dismissive” at times of official orders.

“We must listen to the instructions. Often, we are a little dismissive of instructions or we think ‘they are very important for other people, but not for us.’ We must strictly follow all the instructions we have been given because they have been properly and carefully thought through to prevent any danger to us all,” he says.

President Reuven Rivlin (L) uses hand sanitizer at the Magen David Adom-Home Front Command emergency call center in Ramle for the coronavirus, March 12, 2020. At right is MDA’s Eli Bin. (Mark Neyman/GPO)

Israeli schools could be closed until at least Passover due to coronavirus — report

The current assessment among Education Ministry and teachers union officials is that schools will be ordered closed until at least Passover because of the coronavirus, according to the Ynet news site.

Congress closes US Capitol to public until April amid virus scare

WASHINGTON — Congress is shutting the US Capitol and all House and Senate office buildings to the public until April in reaction to the spread of the coronavirus.

The House and Senate sergeants at arms said in a statement that the closure will begin at 5 p.m. local time today. Lawmakers, aides, journalists and official visitors will be allowed into the buildings.

The statement says officials are acting “out of concern for the health and safety of congressional employees as well as the public.”

— AP

Hotels throughout Israel close to visitors because of coronavirus

Some 100 hotels throughout Israel are closing to visitors, according to Hebrew media reports, as the travel and hospitality industries grapples with the continued fallout from the coronavirus.

Another 100 hotels are expected to close on Sunday, the reports say.

The closures come a day after the Health Ministry ordered a ban on public gatherings of over 100 people and as authorities weigh closing schools to contain the spread of the virus.

4 more coronavirus cases confirmed in Israel, bringing total to 104

Four more cases of the coronavirus are confirmed in Israel, bringing the total in the country to 104.

The Health Ministry says it will soon release further details on the cases.

Borders reemerge in Europe as countries step up measures against coronavirus

Borders are reemerging in Europe due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Czech government declares a state of emergency due to coronavirus and was renewing border checks at its borders with Austria and Germany.

People will be banned from crossing in at any other place. The measure, effective tomorrow at midnight, is approved today.

Prime Minister Andrej Babis says people from 13 risk countries that include not only China, South Korea and Iran but also EU nations such as Italy, Spain, France, Austria and Germany as well as Britain will not be allowed to enter the Czech Republic.

In addition, Czech citizens are not allowed to travel to those countries. Exceptions include truck drivers, train workers and pilots.

Also, starting tomorrow, all public gatherings of more than 30 people will be banned.

— AP

Theaters in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem shut their doors after ban on gatherings of 100+ people

The Habima and Cameri theaters in Tel Aviv are closing their doors after public events of over 100 people are banned due to the spread of the coronavirus.

It is the first time in Habima’s 103-year history that it’s closed, according to Channel 12 news.

The Jerusalem Theatre also announces it will be closing.

Italian official says burials to be sped up as hospitals overflow with dead

Hospitals in Italy’s hard-hit Lombardy region, already overwhelmed trying to care for the increasing number of sick people in limited intensive care units, are overflowing with the dead.

Lombardy’s top health care official, Giulio Gallera, says at the request of the hospitals, the region had simplified the bureaucracy needed to process death certificates and bury the dead, which in Lombardy alone had reached 617 by late Wednesday.

Italian officials have halted both weddings and funerals for a month in their efforts to control Europe’s worst coronavirus outbreak. The country has nearly 12,500 infections and has seen 827 deaths overall.

Gallera notes that with no funerals allowed, the process of cemetery burials was moving faster than before.

Worldwide, 126,000 people have been infected with the new coronavirus, 68,000 have recovered and 4,600 have died.

— AP

Aide to Bolsonaro who posed for photo with Trump tests positive for coronavirus – Reuters

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s communications secretary Fabio Wajngarten “has tested positive for coronavirus,” and is waiting on the result of a second test for confirmation, Reuters quotes media in Brazil as reporting.

The diagnosis comes after Wajngarten returned from the United States with Bolsonaro, who met with US President Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

Wajngarten, who is Jewish, was photographed standing next to Trump and US Vice President Mike Pence. He shared the photo on his Instagram account four days ago.

Health Ministry clarifies ban on gatherings of 100+ people also applies to ‘open spaces’

The Health Ministry says its ban on public gatherings with over 100 people will take place in the coming hours.

The order applies to weddings, bar mitzvahs and funerals.

The ministry clarifies that the order applies to “both closed and open spaces.”

It is not immediately clear what the impact of the order will be on Muslim prayers tomorrow at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City or on the operations of outdoor markets throughout country.

Netanyahu to give televised statement at 8 p.m. on coronavirus

Prime Minister Netanyahu will give a televised statement at 8 p.m. on new guidelines regarding the coronavirus.

According to Hebrew media reports, Netanyahu will announce that schools are being closed as part of efforts to halt the spread of the virus.

Wife of Bolsonaro aide confirms coronavirus diagnosis

The wife of Fabio Wajngarten, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s communications secretary, confirms today in a message on a WhatsApp group addressed to parents of the school where their daughters study that her husband has been infected with the coronavirus.

“My husband returned from a trip to the United States yesterday and tested for covid, which turned out to be positive,” Sophie Wajngarten writes to the group, according to the daily Folha de S. Paulo.

— with AFP

Pentagon chief says ‘all options are on the table’ after attack on US troops in Iraq

WASHINGTON — US Defense Secretary Mark Esper warns “all options are on the table” after a rocket attack in Iraq that killed three members of US-led coalition force, including two Americans.

Esper tells reporters he spoke yesterday with US President Donald Trump about possible retaliatory measures. “He gave me the authority to do what we need to do,” Esper says.

— AFP

Chief Sephardic rabbi calls on Israelis to avoid mass prayers at Western Wall

Chief Sephardic Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef calls on Israelis to avoid praying in large groups at the Western Wall or synagogues following the Health Ministry’s ban on gatherings of over 100 people as part of efforts to combat the coronavirus.

“I want to clarify there is no Halachic instruction that supersedes Health Ministry orders,” Yosef writes in a letter. “The Halachic directive on this issue is to fully obey all Health Ministry orders without exception and every order issued by them is a Halahic order for all intents and purposes.”

Israel’s Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef attends the traditional selling of the the hametz (food containing leavening) of the state of Israel to a non-Jew before the upcoming Passover holiday, on March 29, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Number of confirmed virus cases in Israel rises to 109; 6-month-old baby tests positive

The Health Ministry says there have been 109 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Israel, five more than it reported earlier today.

Five of the patients are in moderate condition and two are in serious condition.

Among those who have tested positive for the virus is a 6-month-old, according to the ministry.

Canada’s Trudeau in self-quarantine as wife tested for coronavirus

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife announce they are self-isolating as she undergoes tests for the new coronavirus after returning from a speaking engagement with “mild flu-like symptoms.”

Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau’s symptoms have subsided since she got back from Britain yesterday, but as a precaution the prime minister “will spend the day in briefings, phone calls and virtual meetings from home,” according to a statement.

Trudeau also cancels a meeting with Canada’s provincial and territorial leaders in Ottawa.

— AFP

Europe becomes new epicenter of coronavirus pandemic

Officials on both sides of the Atlantic say Europe is the new epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.

CDC Director Robert Redfield tells US lawmakers in House hearing that “within the world now, over 70% of new cases are linked to Europe. … Europe is the new China.”

The head of the Danish Health Authority, Soeren Brostroem, says today that “ the epidemic has gotten a new epicenter, and that is Europe.”

He tells reporters that “if one looks at day-by-day developments, Europe has the greatest growth now. And it is not just Italy, but also a number of other countries in Europe that have had a worrying development.”

The European Center for Disease says the continent has more than 22,000 cases of the new coronavirus and 943 deaths.

— AP

Italy’s coronavirus death toll passes 1,000

ROME — Italy’s death toll passed 1,000 today, with 189 new fatalities taking its toll in just over two weeks to 1,016, second behind China, official data show.

The number of deaths is just below Italy’s single-day record of 196 reported yesterday. The number of daily infections rises to 2,651 from 2,313 yesterday, reaching 15,113 overall.

— AFP

A man wearing a protective mask walks by the Spanish Steps at a deserted Piazza di Spagna in central Rome on March 12, 2020. (Alberto Pizzoli/AFP)

As Iran reels from coronavirus, Zarif calls for lifting of US sanctions

UNITED NATIONS — Iran’s foreign minister demands the United States immediately halt what he calls a “campaign of economic terrorism” and lift sanctions, saying they have made it increasingly difficult for the country to export oil and virtually impossible to import medicine and medical equipment, including to identify and treat coronavirus patients.

Mohammad Javad Zarif says in a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that US sanctions have also left thousands of Iranians stranded abroad and severely disrupted air links with Europe. And he says they have led to what he called “Google’s immoral censoring” of a new government app designed to help Iranians identify potential symptoms of the COVID-19 virus.

He says it is “imperative that the government of the United States immediately halt its campaign of economic terrorism against the Iranian people and lift all sanctions it has illegally imposed on my country,” in violation of the Security Council resolution that endorsed the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six major powers which the US pulled out of in 2018.

“To this end,” Zarif says, “It is imperative that the United Nations and its member states join the Iranian people in demanding that the government of the United States abandon its malign and fruitless approach against Iran.”

The new coronavirus, COVID-19, has swept across Iran, with the Health Ministry announcing today that in the past 24 hours 75 people had died and more than 1,000 new cases had been confirmed, bringing the death toll to 429 and confirmed cases to 10,075.

— AP

Rocket warning sirens sound in kibbutz near Gaza border

Rocket alert sirens sound in the community of Reim, east of the Gaza Strip.

The military says it is looking into the matter.

— Judah Ari Gross

Rocket warning sirens in Gaza border kibbutz a false alarm

The rocket sirens in the community of Kibbutz Rei’m were a false alarm, the military says.

An Iron Dome interceptor missile was launched into the air during the incident after operators mistakenly believed a rocket had been fired from the Gaza Strip.

“There was no launch from Gaza,’ the IDF says.

Residents of the area reported hearing the sound of an explosion, apparently as the interceptor exploded in mid-air.

— Judah Ari Gross

Ban on entry to Israel of non-nationals who can’t self-quarantine takes effect

A ban on entering the country for non-Israeli nationals without a proven ability to self-quarantine for 14 days officially takes effect.

Netanyahu warns of potential ‘large numbers’ of dead from coronavirus

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warns “the number of dead [from the coronavirus] could reach large numbers” as Israel works to curb the spread of the virus in the country.

Speaking during a press conference at his office, he says the mortality rate from the virus is two percent to four percent.

There have so far been no deaths from the virus in Israel, where there have been 109 confirmed cases.

Israel announces closure of schools, universities as part of coronavirus fight

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces Israel will close schools and universities as part of measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

He says the decision doesn’t include kindergartens, special education and boarding schools, adding that a decision would be made for those institutions shortly.

“We are in the midst of a global event unlike anything else in the history of the state’s existence,” he says during a press conference at his office in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu calls for formation of emergency government to address coronavirus

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls for the formation of an emergency government following a year-long political deadlock, citing the outbreak of the coronavirus in Israel.

“It would be an emergency government for a limited time, and we will fight together to save the lives of tens of thousands of citizens,” he says in remarks directed at his centrist rival Benny Gantz.

“We will deal with the current crisis together and continue later,” Netanyahu adds.

120 member Knesset to be sworn-in in 3 batches due to limits on event size

Due to a ban on gatherings of over 100 people to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the next Knesset’s 120 members will be sworn-in in three batches of 40 next week, the Knesset announces.

NY governor bans gatherings of over 500 people, including Broadway

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo bans public gatherings of more than 500 people, including shows in Manhattan’s iconic Broadway theater district.

Only schools, hospitals, nursing homes and mass transit facilities are excepted from the rule — which goes into effect for Broadway at 5:00 p.m. (local time), and 24 hours later everywhere else, Cuomo tells journalists.

The governor also says that the occupancy of every seated facility was to be reduced by 50 percent, even if the occupancy is normally 500 or less.

— AFP

Netanyahu said to invite Gantz for talks on emergency government to combat virus

Prime Minister Netanyahu has invited Blue and White party chairman Benny Gantz for talks on assembling a government in the coming days, Hebrew media reports say.

Netanyahu called this evening for the formation of an emergency government, citing the spread of the coronavirus in Israel.

Israel’s political system has been deadlocked for over a year, with three consecutive elections failing to form a government.

France to close schools to curb spread of coronavirus

PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron announces schools in France will close next week and urges people over 70 to stay at home, to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Creches, schools and also universities will close from Monday “until further notice,” Macron says in an address to the nation on the fight against the coronavirus.

The president also announces that local elections to be held Sunday will not be postponed. He describes the spread of the virus as the “greatest health crisis France has known for a century.”

— AFP

Iran death toll from coronavirus passes 600; Syria shuts schools

TEHRAN — Iran says Saturday the coronavirus outbreak has killed another 97 people, pushing the death toll in the country to 611, as war-ravaged Syria announced a number of strict measures despite the government saying it has no confirmed cases.

Iran is suffering from the worst outbreak in the Middle East, with 12,729 cases and even senior officials testing positive. It is a close ally of the Syrian government in the civil war, with military advisers as well as Shiite pilgrims frequently traveling between the two countries.

A spokesman for Iran’s Health Ministry announces the latest cases on state TV. Health Minister Saeed Namaki says there will be “some new restrictions” on movement into and out of cities, without elaborating.

There are concerns that the number of infections in Iran is much higher than the confirmed cases reported by the government, with some Iranian lawmakers having questioned the official toll.

The outbreak has not spared Iran’s top officials, with its senior vice president, Cabinet ministers, members of parliament, Revolutionary Guard members and Health Ministry officials among those infected.

The Syrian government announces a series of precautionary measures, including closing schools and universities until April 2.

Even in the tenth year of its devastating civil war, Syria has continued to receive large numbers of pilgrims from Iran, Iraq and neighboring Lebanon. They particularly visit the shrine of Sayida Zaynab, the prophet Muhammad’s granddaughter, in a suburb of the capital Damascus.

— AP

Netanyahu to hold meeting at 6:30 p.m. on new restrictions to fight virus

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will hold a meeting at 6:30 p.m. to decide on new restrictions to combat the coronavirus, Army Radio reports.

Netanyahu will choice between ordering a general shutdown of the economy except for essential services or what the radio station calls a “Shabbat format,” which would bring around half of the economy to a halt.

The report says ministry directors-general were meeting at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem and that the government was preparing the country for an emergency situation in regards to medicine, fuel, electricity, public transportation and other essential services.

“We’re preparing logistically in the coming days to transition the country to an economy in a time of emergency,” a source involved in the deliberations is quoted saying.

Spain to announce lockdown as coronavirus infections spike — reports

MADRID — Spanish media are reporting that Spain’s government will announce today that it is placing tight restrictions on movement for the nation of 46 million people while declaring a two-week state of emergency to fight the sharp rise in coronavirus infections.

News agency Europa Press and daily newspaper El Mundo report the drastic step shortly before Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is due to address the nation.

Health authorities in Spain say that coronavirus infections have reached 5,753 people, half of them in the capital, Madrid. That represents a national increase of over 1,500 in 24 hours.

— AP

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